When the war comes home

A panel’s report shows that government must step up for wounded vets.

Last week, a presidential panel set up after the revelations about the care, or, more accurately, the lack of care, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center issued its report and recommendations for the veteran’s health-care system. It found that the current system is not capable of meeting the demands of two wars and encouraged a massive overhaul of the way the government determines disability status.

The Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors found that veterans are often left rudderless in navigating the complex federal bureaucracy, unable to collect benefits. Oftentimes, the soldiers’ diagnoses are misplaced between the military and civilian medical systems. The commission also found a distressing lack of attention being paid to traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. With 52,000 soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan already diagnosed with some form of PTSD, we hope that Congress, the White House and the Pentagon move swiftly to take up the commission’s recommendations.

They propose a different kind of surge – one of medical staff and funding at Walter Reed – until the hospital closes in 2011. Their proposal will give the Department of Veterans Affairs more control over awarding benefits and will enhance the PTSD and traumatic brain-injury programs at VA facilities across the country. It will also increase family support for those who relocate to take care of veterans who need long-term assistance.

In Minnesota, 2,600 of our National Guard troops have either arrived back home or are on their way back from Iraq. We must make sure that they have the best treatment available.

The panel expects the changes to cost $500 million each year, and eventually the costs will rise to $1 billion per year. Perhaps these kinds of costs should have been considered before the decision to fight was made, but now there can be no question that these changes are necessary.